Can You Recover A Relationship After Getting 'The Ick'?

Oh, the ick. You're out there living your best life with a new or long-term partner and suddenly you're completely grossed out by something they do or say. It could be the way they eat ice cream in a cone (shouldn't that be licked?), a new perfume or cologne they're trying to pull off, or even something as subtle as a facial expression. No matter what it is, when you're struck by the ick, all you can see and think about is the ick.

Although the ick isn't something recognized by the medical or psychological community, it doesn't change the fact that it's legit and anyone can experience it. But the problem with the ick is that infiltrates your brain. You can become obsessed with that one particular thing that, sometimes, has gone so far as to make you feel actually repulsed by your partner. When this happens, you may begin to wonder if you'll ever be able to shake the ick. In other words, can love still exist after the ick? Short answer: yes. But it's going to involve some work on your part.

When it comes to the ick, the most important thing to realize is that it's not about your partner, it's actually about you. Once you can see the reality of the situation and take it apart, you just might be able to move past the ick and officially recover, getting your relationship back on track. You just need to see the ick as something that's not icky, but a personal issue you're having.

It's fear

Hold on to your seats because we have got some news for you. The ick comes from fear. It actually has nothing to do with how your partner slurps their soup or how their first yawn of the morning is loud and obnoxious. No, it's not that at all.

Whether it's someone we've recently started dating or someone we've been with for a long time, sometimes things get so comfortable so easily that it's natural to experience feelings of fear. Letting someone into our lives on a romantic level and allowing ourselves to fall in love is a risk we all take. But as much as the risk may eventually be worth it, it's normal to be scared at some point — love can be scary. It's all-consuming and causes a whole boatload of hormones to run through our body making us delirious and high as a kite as if we've been doing drugs for weeks. This is actually just our brain on love. It doesn't matter if it's the first time or the 10th time, love can be confusing, and with confusion comes fear. So, for some people, this fear manifests itself as the ick.

It's your defensive mechanism hard at work

In keeping with the theme that the ick is fear, it's also our defensive mechanism kicking into high gear. If we've been burned before or been in an unhealthy relationship and now we're with someone who actually cares about us, it can force our brain to question what's going on. Why is this person so good to me? When are they going to reveal their true self? How long is it going to be before they break my heart?

"[I see this with] my clients who have had experiences of not trusting other adults, not believing that people are going to show up for them," clinical psychologist says Elizabeth Cohen Ph.D. tells Shape. "Once someone starts to show up for them, be trustworthy, etc., their nervous system is so not used to it."

The defense mechanism can take hold so strongly that things like affection or even a partner constantly being present can result in the ick. They're on time every time? Ick. They always answer texts within a few minutes? Ick. But that shouldn't be icky. That should result in the realization that you finally met someone who gives a darn.

It's not necessarily a red flag

While it's easy to mistake the ick as a red flag, it doesn't mean it is. For example, someone being there for you, supporting you, and loving you may induce the ick, but these are certainly not red flags. If anything, these are green flags and those flags mean go, go, go in the direction of that person. The problem is when you've been wired to think that relationships are supposed to look a certain way or are riddled with conflict and drama, then something that's healthy can be overwhelming and feel off. It's easy to find flaws in someone when you're looking to sabotage a good thing.

A true red flag is something that you feel in your gut. It's when someone seems shady or unpredictable, someone who might be negging you or using other toxic tactics to mess with your mental and emotional health. Wearing dad jeans, chewing too loudly, or loving pineapple on pizza don't warrant ending things. Okay, so maybe the pineapple on pizza is an issue, but it's still an ick you can put aside if you try.

Examine your feelings

If, when you subtract the ick from the scenario, you realize you've got someone really great worth holding onto, then it's time to examine why you're experiencing the ick. Ask yourself what you're scared of, why are you looking for flaws, and how can you process the ick in a healthy and mature way. If you really care for someone and think they could be "the one," then you can get over the ick and put it all behind you.

If you can't seem to do it on your own and you believe this relationship deserves more and is worth saving, then talking to a therapist can help. A professional can guide you in unpacking the source of the ick and what it is about certain behaviors by your partner that's so triggering and off-putting. Ideally, in time, you'll solve the case of the ick and rediscover what you adored about your relationship in the first place.